Notes on the Conditioning Theory of Learning



The simplest and the most elementary type of learning is that by conditioning. It is also called learning by conditioned response or conditioned reflex. The feeling of fear in loneliness or in darkness and the feeling of appetite at the sight of palatable food are the instances of conditioning.

It is natural that an individual responds to a stimulus. But sometimes another object gets associated with the original stimulus and acts as its substitute in absence of the original one. The substitute stimulus also gets the same response as the original one.

For example, the mother gives her baby a bitter medicine from one bottle for a few days. Then fear is found in the baby's face as his mother comes to him. Subsequently the mere sight of the same bottle is enough to arouse fear in him. The bottle has taken the place of the bitter taste and causes fear in the baby's mind. Fear is now conditioned to the bottle and the baby has learned to fear the bottle.

Pavlov's experiments are taken as examples of such a conditioning in learning. In one experiment Pavlov attached a tube to the salivary glands of a dog through an incision in its cheek. The dog was given food through an automatic device. As the food (US) was given, a bell (CS) was rung. Prior provision for the collection and measurement of the saliva that was secreted. The combination of stimuli-food (US) and ringing bell (CS) — was repeated until the bell (CS) alone became the stimulus that produced the salivary secretion (CR) The dog was found conditioned to the new stimulus.

U.S — Unconditioned Stimulus

C.S — Conditioned Stimulus

U.R— Unconditioned Response

C.R. — Conditioned Response

Learning by conditioning is a common method of learning both incase of human beings and animals. The animals in the circus-elephants, tigers, lions, bears, dogs and so on are trained to behave in some ways. The lion is sitting on the table, elephant is walking on two legs, bear is walking on a rope or plying a cycle are the instances of learning by conditioning.

Educational Implications:

Learning by conditioning is in the educational field. In the early stage of education children can learn many things through conditioning. Goods habits are formed by conditioning. The conditioned responses help human beings in acquiring vocabulary, particularly in foreign languages, learning multiplication tables.

Learning by conditioning is also called learning by connections or association. Practice and repetition strengthen the bonds of conditioning and the lack of it weakens them.

Therefore, as the good habits are developed through conditioning, bad habits can also be removed by conditioning. The child can be saved from the bad habits by putting some inter-vening stimulus between the original one and the response.

The child, who smokes, for example, can be made aware of the horror caused by smoking through real incident or showing a drama or a film about this. This will enable the child to give up the habit. Similarly, associating pain or punishment with the habit of stealing, drinking or smoking will be helpful for removing the bad habits.